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Three days in Prague

"We are going to give a gold medal to a city on July 2 but it is also very important to the Commission that the other cities do not have too many things to criticize us for.

"We are going to give a gold medal to a city on July 2 but it is also very important to the Commission that the other cities do not have too many things to criticize us for. We hope the decision that is reached is the right one, the other two cities feel that there has been fair play, and that they can congratulate the winner."

— Gerhard Heiberg, chairman of the evaluation commission for the 2010 Olympics, as quoted in Olympic Review

With the decision on who will host the 2010 Winter Olympics less than a week away the interest, excitement and optimism surrounding the Vancouver-Whistler bid is growing daily. Banners, parties, advertising and media interest are all proliferating in the lead up to the July 2 decision in Prague.

While there have always been opponents and proponents of hosting the Games, it’s interesting to chart the public mood over the course of the Olympic bid. From overwhelming indifference five years ago the feeling among many in Whistler has evolved. There have been various stages of questioning, skepticism, opposition, reconsideration, education, cautious optimism and, finally, a sense of opportunity.

There’s also the understanding that the Olympic decision will impact a lot of other decisions facing Whistler.

But the optimism among people in Whistler and Vancouver seems to be growing by the hour. There is a feeling that, quite simply, the Vancouver bid is better than those of Salzburg and Pyeongchang. And indeed it may be, although the report on the three candidate cities by Mr. Heiberg’s evaluation team finds faults with each city and takes pains to praise each more or less equally.

Olympic veterans and "experts" who interpreted the report for Canadian media seemed to find subtle clues that favoured Vancouver. But that’s a bit like asking economists to interpret economic trends and indicators to determine where to invest. The best they can offer is an educated guess.

Which leads to the question of how the decision to award the Olympics is made. There are all kinds of theories on what will be considered: which time zone NBC would like the Games to be held in; it’s North America’s turn; anti-American sentiment could become anti-North American sentiment; political stability on the Korean peninsula; awarding the 2010 Winter Games to Korea would make for a level playing field among New York and the many European cities bidding for the 2012 Summer Games.

But what it really comes down to is the individual IOC members who vote. There are 126 members, but the three Canadian, three Korean and one Austrian member won’t be eligible to vote in Prague. That leaves a potential 119 voting members, although traditionally only about 90 show up to decide where the Games will be held. A simple majority – 50 per cent plus one – determines the winner.

Subtracting the ineligible members, there are potentially 57 Europeans, 18 from the Americas, 22 Asians, 17 Africans, and five from the Oceania countries who have a vote. According to the brief biographies on the IOC Web site, 37 eligible IOC members have some affiliation with winter sports. That affiliation ranges from someone like Jean Claude Killy, who not only won three Olympic gold medals and revolutionized ski racing but also presided over the Albertville Olympics, to members like Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, who lists skiing as one of his hobbies, and Shagdariav Magvan, who has successfully led Mongolian delegations to several Winter Olympics.

Since the Salt Lake bidding scandal, of course, IOC members are not allowed to visit the bid cities. That would suggest most members will rely on Mr. Heiberg’s ambivalent report and the presentations in Prague to determine their vote.

Canadian media reported, with some enthusiasm, last week that Wayne Gretzky will be part of the Vancouver-Whistler presentation team in Prague. But how impressed will Ram Ruhee, the IOC member from Mauritus, be by Gretzky? Similarly, how impressed will Mr. Ruhee, whose sporting background includes horse racing, soccer, volleyball and table tennis, be by Hermann Maier, who will be part of the Salzburg presentation?

All this is not to suggest the optimism in Vancouver and Whistler is unwarranted, but that the three days schmoozing IOC members and the final presentation in Prague are crucial.